- Published on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 09:46
17 April: International Day of Peasant's Struggle
On the eve of international day of peasants, Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee in collaboration with Anjaman Mozareen Punjab will hold a two days peasant conference in Pakistan. The conference will take place on 17-18 April 2009 at Okara and Lahore. The conference will be kicked of by a mass rally of peasants where over 20,000 peasants are expected to attend. There will be cultural programme including street theaters and revolutionary poetry.
On 18 April, the conference will shift to Lahore where there will be discussions of why lands must be distributed among the poor peasants, Mozareen and agricultural workers. Several leading social and political activists and leaders will read their papers on the question.
Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee has started its land rights campaign Pakistan in close coordination with AMP, a partner in PKRC. The PKRC is the main coordination committee of Pakistani peasants. 22 peasant organizations are affiliated with PKRC.
Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (Punjab Tenant Association) had led a peasant's movement in several districts of Punjab for land ownership rights. The AMP is mainly based on Military Farms and Military Welfare Trust agricultural lands. The former military dictatorship wanted them to surrender the tenant rights The land is located in Lahore, Okara and Pakpattan district of Punjab. The agricultural land is mainly cultivated by tenants. and asked them to work on contract. That was a trick to evacuate nearly 68000 acres of land, they have been cultivating over 100 years as tenants.
The tenants were asked to become lessee in year 2000 by Musharaf dictatorship. The scheme was to hand over this land to multi national companies for corporate farming. The tenants resisted and formed Anjaman Mozareen Punjab. The AMP became a vehicle of resistance with the help of progressive political and social organizations.
The resistance by AMP became one of the most militant movements of peasantry in Punjab history. Instead of becoming lessee, they refused to pay the share, they were paying as tenants. The women played the leading role. Seven were killed, scores injured and hundreds arrested during the peaceful but militant movement.
During the movement, Pakistan People Party and Muslim League Nawaz promised to give this land to the tenants when they will come to power. A year has passed while both in power. Not much is done to fulfill this promise.
On 17 April 2008, over 5000 tenants and peasants participated in a peasant conference held at Okara Military Farms on the international day of peasants. This activity was supported by SAAPE food security group. They reminded the both parties to do what they promised.
In November 2008, we revealed in a press conference that some agriculture land in Renala Khurd belonging to tenants is been allotted to some military generals and officers in 2007 by the then Punjab government of Pervaiz Ilanhi. We made it clear that we are the occupants of this land and we will not hand over this land to the military officers.
In December 2008, I reminded Mian Nawaz Sharif in a meeting at his residence about his promise. He was very keen to do something. He asked my contact and promised that he will take initiative to have a meeting with the tenants. There are no developments until now in this regard either. I also told him that the land is owned by Punjab government and military is occupying the land without any legal documents.
On 19 January 2009, over 2000 tenants gathered at Renalakhurd in a public meeting by AMP demand the land rights. The police occupied the platform in the morning and asked the organizers to cancel this public meeting. They refused and later when the peasants started to arrive in the tractor trolleys, the police fled from the place and the meeting went ahead.
On 16 February 2009, the AMP leadership including Mehr Abdul Satar, Nadeem Asharaf, Shabir Choudry, Liaqat Ali alongside with Peoples Right Movement convener Asim Sajad addressed a press conference in Islamabad. Daily Dawn reported the press conference in detail with the title "tillers of military farms seek ownership rights". The report says, "When the state repression at Okara Military Farms was at its peak in 2002 and 2003, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif spoke out in favor of the tenants and promised that one of their first action upon coming to power would be to withdrawal all false criminal cases against the tenants and allot them the land they had been tilling over 100 years. The APM and PRM office bearers pointed out that a year's time was sufficient for the elected government to take the necessary measures to transform property rights to the tenants".
The AMP leadership has decided to organize more public rallies during the next two months. On 29 February 2009, a public rally was organized at Depalpur where over 3000 peasants participated. On 26 March 2009, there will be another mass convention of the peasants at Kulyana Estate Okara, and on 29 March, a similar convention will be held at Lahore Pengali Military Farms.
We have planned the activities for the next six months. This will include printing of leaflets, stickers, posters, booklets, seminars and peasant conferences.
We would not be able to afford the travel costs, but will host our guests here.
A South Asian conference on land rights will help our cause in Pakistan and will forge more practical unity among the peasant leaders of the region.